The Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) is busy scheduling small business workshops in several flood-impacted towns. Grant-funded workshops are already on the calendar for Waterbury, Wilmington, Bethel, Halifax, and Ludlow, with multiple others to be scheduled very soon. This got me wondering what the process is like for communities as they select and promote workshops for local businesses.
My search led me to Marji Graf, executive director of the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce, which is based in Ludlow, but serves multiple towns. Marji is the project’s single point for connecting to businesses in several flood-impacted towns from Ludlow, to Chester, to Plymouth, among others. It turns out that this is arguably the leader among all Vermont chambers in the use of digital tools, both in terms of offering classes to chamber members and leveraging these members to attract tourists to the Okemo Valley and support member businesses.
When I asked why she selected the workshops we are offering on Cloud Computing and Google Tools, Graf replied: “We have a full library of educational programs all year long, and even an online learning portal for those members who cannot attend workshops in person. So I simply looked at the list of workshops and selected the two that complemented our schedule.”
Indeed, members who go to the portal right now can catch a great “how to” seminar on ways the professional social media networking site LinkedIn can support their business. And, this week, the chamber hosted an email marketing seminar from Constant Contact. The educational series offered by the chamber even offers certification, if a member attends multiple learning modules.
Graf is coming up on her 5th year at the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce. She really hit the ground running, by being the first chamber of commerce in Vermont to develop a mobile application (app), back in 2009.
When we created the mobile app, people in our service territory didn’t really understand the power of an app. A member in Plymouth assumed it wouldn’t work for him because he does not have good cell phone coverage. I had to explain that once it’s on your phone, the info is on your phone and you don’t need to be online to access the information. That’s the power of the app and why it’s perfect for our businesses and for tourists visiting the area.”
Now Graf is showing leadership in promoting digital tools by spear-heading a movement to get other Vermont chambers onto a common platform, so that all chamber data can be aggregated to create statewide content for visitors on a Vermont specific app family from Route 802. Currently, they have twelve such apps, covering territory from Manchester to St. Albans, and several points in between.
Graf closed our conversation by emphasizing how much she loves partnering with VtSBDC on enhancing the educational content for its members. “Nobody can make decisions about their businesses unless they are educated -- they have to know what their options are and what is available to them,” says Graf.